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A Come-From-Behind Plan to Land the Olympics

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Counting votes sport-by-sport only gets you so far, because few have more than a handful of IOC members. The best-represented, track and field (with about a dozen affiliated IOC members), will probably lean toward New York. “Many of the stars are Americans, but it’s still less popular than in Europe, so there’s a lot of untapped potential in the States,” explains one IOC expert. “At their headquarters down in Monte Carlo, they’re always trying to figure out how to promote more in America.” By contrast, soccer, second in IOC clout, will more likely side with France. The country has been good to fifa, the world governing body, and the right-hand man of its president, IOC member Sepp Blatter, is Michel Platini, the soccer star who lit the Olympic flame at Albertville, France, in 1992.

Historically speaking, votes with such well-matched contenders usually end in a mano a mano final round, sometimes with unexpected results, such as dark-horse Atlanta beating Athens for the 1996 Games. “People usually have their first and second choices selected beforehand,” explains Battle. “But if those two cities get eliminated, many voters will be improvising.”

Assuming NYC 2012 secures the West Side stadium by July 6 and passes the evaluation phase, can New York win? The short answer is yes. Here’s the scenario. First, obviously, it must survive the initial round, which means taking out Moscow. The Russian capital’s position is so weak that it’s already announced plans to bid for 2016. On the other hand, there’s a history of underdog cities scoring surprisingly well in the first round, because IOC voters don’t want to disgrace them. “Everyone warns us not to be overconfident in your strength for the first round,” Kriegel says. “You can’t take anyone’s vote for granted at that stage.”

Assuming Moscow is eliminated, the race becomes New York versus Europe. In this round, New York has to target potential Madrid votes by emphasizing its ability to pull off the Games on a megascale. Again, this won’t be easy—Madrid’s compactness eases logistical concerns. Then, if it comes down to Paris, London, and New York, Doctoroff & Co. must pray that the British bid—recently reported to be damaged by internal dissension and political sniping—remains credible enough to avoid Paris’s hitting the 50 percent mark in round three. “New York looked like it was hoping to split London and Paris down the middle,” says Kevin Wamsley, director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario. “But now London’s bid is looking shaky, which might actually hurt New York.”

If it comes down to Paris–New York, Doctoroff must count on the collective dreams of the 2016 European contenders shooting down the French, which is iffy but not impossible. As Benjamin Disraeli once noted, in politics there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.

Another scenario, perhaps the most plausible of all, is a Paris win that leaves New York with a clean shot at 2016. Madrid, London, and Milan would be out, and it might still be considered too soon to go back to Asia after Beijing in 2008. That would leave Moscow and probably a couple of the first-round 2012 casualties—Istanbul, Rio, and Havana. New York stacks up pretty well against this field, and there’d be extra time to get the stadium straightened out.

If Doctoroff is considering such a thing, he refuses to give the slightest indication. Nor will anyone associated with NYC 2012. Ten days after our alpine train ride, Charlie Battle was still in Europe. He attended the International Boxing Association’s executive-committee meeting in Liverpool (Francis Nyangweso, an IOC member from Uganda, boxed in the 1960 Olympics) and also went to Paris for the World Judo Championships (the federation president Yong Sung Park is an IOC member, and at least two other members have official judo ties). “From now until July, we can’t let up,” he says. “A lot of this is like a classic political campaign. You have to keep your momentum going, but you also have to make sure you don’t peak too early.”


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